Top 5: Weird Literary Fantasy

As every reader, I definitely have a type. Or rather, a few types, and weird literary fantasy is one of them. It could be best described as the “I have no idea what the fuck did I just read, but whoa 😮” subgenre of fantasy – weird, experimental, often trippy, gorgeously written, and in a way also fun.

The books below have five things in common, aside from genre:

  • They’re all pure 5-star reads as far as I’m concerned.
  • If you read and liked one, it’s highly possible you’ll like the others (same for dislike!).
  • The prose in all of them is firmly on the stained glass rather than windowpane side, but modern – there’s little I dislike as much as flowery ultraviolet archaic prose.
  • They all do something strange and new and experimental – whether in content, structure, or both – and are lighter on plot and less approachable than most SFF.
  • All work as standalones!

So, let’s go!

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Review: Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman (Tess of the Road #1)

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There are many, many stories about roads and journeys in fantasy, and just as many sayings. Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker? Journey before destination. The Road goes ever on and on. So in a way, Tess of the Road is a story in the oldest of fantasy traditions.

The road was possibility, the kind she’d thought her life would never hold again, and Tess herself was motion. Motion had no past, only future. Any direction you walked was forward, and that was as must be.

Walk on became her credo; she repeated it to herself every morning upon deciding to get up and exist for one more day.

At the same time, it’s also a fresh take. There’s no grand objective to work towards. And instead of the world, Tess saves herself.

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Reread: The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar (Olondria #2)

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Note: I have not read A Stranger in Olondria before The Winged Histories. It works perfectly fine as a standalone.

This is one of my favourite novels of all time along with The Gray House and more recently The Ten Thousand Doors of January. I first read it in the summer of 2017 and have been thinking it was a shame I never wrote up anything on it ever since. A book that means so much to me – that deserves words. Praise. Anything. So allow me to write something a little…extra ✨

I have breathed on shadows, as one breathes into a soap bubble, to give it breadth and life. I did it because I had to, because human beings cannot live without history, and I have no history or tradition that is not located in a pale, aggressive body lying in the dirt, or hanging from a tree. […] What is the difference between a genius and a monster?

It’s so hard to set expectations correctly. Anything, anything you knew about fantasy and the paths stories take, their structure – it goes right out the window. Forget it. As much of literary fantasy, it avoids the beaten path.

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Review: This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

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ARC received from the publisher (Saga Press) on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Whoa. Just…whoa. Another candidate for “best of 2019” for me. It’s like someone distilled almost everything I like into one book – exquisite prose, a high dose of weirdness, a queer relationship, a more literary feel, experimental structure – and the end result is breathtaking. Brilliant in a way I’m not sure a review can illustrate. It has to be read to be believed.

I feel almost invincible in our battles’ wake: a kind of Achilles, fleet footed and light of touch. Only in this nonexistent place our letters weave do I feel weak. How I love to have no armor here.

Footnote for fans of the romance genre: for the sake of proper expectations, this is a love story but is not romance genre-wise – if anyone rec’d it as such…🤦

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Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

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ARC received from the publisher (Redhook) on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Absolutely stunning and a strong candidate for the best book of 2019 for me, Ten Thousand Doors of January combines gorgeous prose with equally compelling characters and story. It’s a book about books, a story about stories that hooked me in the first paragraph. It couldn’t be more my type if it tried.

Reason and rationality reigned supreme, and there was no room for magic or mystery. There was no room, it turned out, for little girls who wandered off the edge of the map and told the truth about the mad, impossible things they found there.

January Scaller is a mixed-race girl growing up in 1900s America. Her father is often absent, so she lives with his employer, the wealthy and influential Mr. Locke, a member of a secretive archeological society. She’s provided for beyond what her father could ever have managed, but horribly lonely and longing for freedom. Then one day her father fails to return…

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Review: The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

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Short but stunning. Despite probably not being long enough to even qualify as a novella, there’s a lot packed inside the small space. It’s about history, revisionism, stories, taking your truth back, humans exploiting other species without regard for anything but ourselves. And it’s beautiful. Highly, highly recommended.

Stories, too, they discovered. But it was a funny thing: They were shattered into pieces, like the Great Mother who had scattered them, and no one tale held to the ear by itself could ever be fully understood. To make them whole required many voices entwined. Then and only then could we become the undying We, endless voices passing along the one song that is also Many.

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Review: Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox

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Every once in a while, I get a mad compulsion to read a book. I hear of something, and it won’t give me peace until I go and read it – and without a fail, those books prove to be my favourites. So it was with The Name of the Wind all those years ago, or The Curse of Chalion, or more recently The Gray House. And so it is here.  Outside of my usual wheelhouse or no, I had to have it and yet again my instinct has proven correct. I wanted to yell about it from the rooftops before I was halfway through. I finished it in less than a day. It satisfied the craving for more Witchmark left beyond perfectly.

“Of course I could have turned them out into the fields, to laugh and cry like that with no roof to shield them. Maybe in another world, that would be best, but…” Archie got up stiffly, muscles aching from holding Rufus against the trunk of the apple tree the night before. “Not in this one. In this world, love needs shelter. And as long as the rectory’s standing, I’m going to provide it.”

If you’re looking for extremely well-written, atmospheric m/m romance with a slight fantasy twist this is very likely a book for you.

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